Anyone thinking about securing a copyright for Artificial Intelligence (AI) generated work should pay attention to last month’s ruling in a Federal court in Washington D.C. In a ruling upholding the U.S. Copyright Office’s decision to not grant copyright protection to an AI-generated artwork, Judge Beryl A. Howell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled that AI-generated art was not entitled to copyright protection because it wasn’t created by a human.
This distinction is the first ruling to establish legal boundaries for copyright protection on AI-generated art, but it undoubtedly will not be the last ruling on the matter. The judge herself acknowledged as much in her decision:
“Undoubtedly, we are approaching new frontiers in copyright as artists put AI in their toolbox to be used in the generation of new visual and other artistic works,” she said, adding that there will be many questions to be answered in the future about how much human involvement is needed to obtain a copyright.
In the case that was brought before Judge Howell, computer scientist Stephen Thaler used an AI system that he had designed to create a two-dimensional image of train tracks passing under an arch. Because Thaler admitted in his application that the art was created by the machine he calls the “Creativity Machine” and not by him, the Copyright Office denied his application for a copyright. In its rejection letter, the Copyright Office stated that Thaler either needed to “provide evidence that the work is the product of human authorship or convince the Office to depart from a century of copyright jurisprudence.” Judge Howell agreed that Thaler had not given the court any reason to reverse any applicable precedent because of his clear statement that he was not directly involved in the generation of the work.
Because work generated by AI is increasing in many fields, this ruling may prove significant for anyone looking to copyright AI-generated work product. In the current case, Thaler’s attorneys said that they will appeal the decision, so we likely have not heard the last of the Creativity Machine or AI-generated work.